Earlier this year, US President Barack Obama announced a pioneering initiative to help us better understand the human brain. The initiative is now gearing up to fulfil its ambitious brief, having released an interim report into its progress
The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative was launched in April this year. The initiative is designed to improve our understanding of the brain and how it works. The intention is that this improved understanding will, in turn, improve the treatment of brain disorders such as epilepsy.
The objectives of the initiative have been split down into nine quite specific goals. One is the creation of an incredibly complex computer model of the human brain. Another is the increased understanding of how the activity of neurons translates into our behaviours and thoughts. A third is to compile both existing knowledge and the data coming from the initiative, and spread that across the scientific and medical communities.
In the 'preamble' of the new BRAIN Interim Report the working group state: “The human brain is simply astonishing – no less astonishing to those of use who have spent our careers studying its patterns and mysteries than to those new to thinking about the brain. President Obama, by creating the BRAIN initiative, has provided an unprecedented opportunity to solve those mysteries.”
In a statement issued to Epilepsy Today by the White House, Mr Obama said: “I have heard from too many Americans whose lives have been affected by a wide range of health conditions and diseases. Whether they are common, preventable ailments or rare, life-threatening illnesses, we must do more to find cures and improve treatments for patients.
“I have always been a strong supporter of medical research because of its potential to save lives, relieve suffering, and improve our quality of life. From mapping the human genome to unlocking new vaccines and cancer treatments, Federally funded research has spurred advances in science and healthcare that help millions of Americans every day.
“Medical miracles do not happen by accident. They often grow out of painstaking and costly research, and years of trial and error. But when these investments pay off, they change our lives in ways we could never have imagined. And as a Nation, we need to keep taking bold steps toward the most promising solutions in medicine and human health.
“Under the Recovery Act, we made available $10 billion in new resources to support research at the National Institutes of Health – an unprecedented amount. I also lifted the ban on Federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, which has the unique potential to help us better understand – and possibly cure – some of the most devastating diseases and conditions.
“Those were big steps forward, but we had to keep going. So in 2013, I announced the next great American project in medical research: the BRAIN initiative. By investing in basic research, this initiative aims to give scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action and better understand how we think, learn, and remember. And that knowledge could transform how we treat illnesses like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, post-traumatic stress disorder and epilepsy. To learn more and see other projects we are pursuing, visit www.NIH.gov
“At times, our pride in discovery of innovative treatments is tempered by shortages of vital medications, including some used for the treatment of cancer. That is why in October 2011, I directed the Food and Drug Administration to do more to reduce and prevent drug shortages, protect consumers, and prevent price gouging. Since then, hundreds of drug shortages have been averted. And moving forward, we will keep working to ensure patients have access to the lifesaving medicines they need.
“Thank you, again, for writing. Medical research holds promise like no other area of human endeavor, and by claiming that promise together, we can keep making progress toward a brighter future for everyone.”